My sister loves my mac and cheese and so, since she was spending the night after a weekend visit to my son at college, I made it for her. This is definitely a grown-up version of the famous nursery food and I highly recommend it. This is a recipe for four which actually made dinner for two and lunch for me the next day because we scarfed it down happily.
On occasion I make an individual bowl of this without the crust, just a creamy bowl of comfort, so feel free to leave off the crust if you prefer your mac and cheese more reminiscent of the boxed version. (I am speaking texturally not from a taste point of view as I have never eaten the Kraft version.)
3/4 of a package of macaroni or rigatoni
1 Tbsp + 1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp dry white wine or vermouth
1 1/2 cups shredded or finely diced cheese (I used a mixture of extra sharp Cheddar, Fontina and Gruyere)
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 + 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup panko
1 bay leaf
Splash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
While the pasta water is heating, heat one tablespoon of the butter and the flour, along with the bay leaf, in a large skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or so, until the flour mixture is a rich golden brown.
By this time your pasta water should have come to a boil so tip in your dry pasta and cook it for 1 minute less than the directions on the box before draining; it will continue to cook when you bake it. Take this opportunity to preheat the oven to 350.
Add the wine to the pan containing the flour mixture and stir, scraping down to remove any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the milk and stir, cooking the mixture until it starts to thicken, 3-5 minutes. As soon as the mixture starts to thicken, stir in the mustard and add all of the cheese except for the Parmesan. Continue to cook until the cheese has melted and the sauce is thick. Remove from the heat and stir in half a cup of the Parmesan which will cook in the residual heat along with the mustard and the Worcestershire sauce. Remove the bay leaf and set aside until needed.
As soon as the pasta is ready, drain it and add it to the sauce. Stir well to combine and check for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Pour the mixture into an oven safe dish and set aside while you prepare the topping.
Melt the remaining butter in a frying pan. As soon as it has melted, add the panko (or breadcrumbs if you prefer) and stir to combine. Keep the heat low and stir constantly: you want golden brown, crispy goodness and it takes just a second of inattention on your part for the panko to burn.
Spread the crispy panko mixture over the top of the pasta dish, sprinkle on the remaining grated Parmesan, Place the dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
Remove the now bubbling dish from the oven and wait 5-10 minutes before serving it so nobody burns the roof of their mouth. I highly recommend serving this with a green salad, the more bitter the leaves the better.